No holiday for meters, mayor says

Free-parking tradition in downtown ends at merchants' request

`It's all about convenience'

Employees tied up spaces, prompting customer complaints

November 23, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

After almost two decades, the mayor of Westminster has decided this holiday season to abandon the city's custom of free parking downtown from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.

For at least two years, the mayor, the Common Council and other city officials have been warning that the tradition of not having to feed parking meters might end, primarily because local employees were tying up the spaces.

Shoppers complained they had to circle four and five times in search of a place to park.

"The bottom line is, we're not going to have the free parking this year," Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan confirmed yesterday before the council meeting. "In recent years, it's caused more problems than it's helped. We had a request from the business association this year saying, `Please don't.'

"It's all about convenience," the mayor said of the problems that have developed. "The customers would rather put a quarter in a meter than drive around looking for a space.

"Last year, we had so many complaints," Yowan said. "What happened obviously is that we have the people who work downtown unfortunately end up parking in the metered spaces, so there aren't spaces for the customers."

Sandy Scott, president of the Westminster Business Association and owner of the Hickory Stick gift shop, confirmed that most of the group's members wanted the city to abandon its generosity.

They didn't take a formal vote, Scott said, but merchants have been complaining and the consensus was to abandon free parking.

One problem with the gesture, she said, "is it was never publicized to the right people. So the shoppers were running out and feeding the meter." Downtown workers -- who did know about the free meters and arrived earlier than customers -- tied up spaces from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. instead of buying a monthly permit for nearby lots.

Merchants "were just dying," said Scott.

"I think last year and the year before, there were so many complaints, so overwhelming," she said. "From the patrons, saying `I wanted to patronize your business but I couldn't find a parking space.' Then the merchants called the city."

Council President Damian L. Halstad said the mayor usually formally asks for the holiday tradition, but "from the requests he received, he would rather not."

"The status quo is paid parking," said Halstad, who also noted numerous complaints about the free meters last year. "My sense is that the council agrees with the mayor on this.

"Our intent is to do whatever is desirable for the downtown business community," he said. "The feeling is, `Don't do it. It's more trouble than it's worth.' "

"You've got to give people what they want," said Yowan, adding that metered downtown parking is free after 3 p.m. weekdays, and all day Saturday and Sunday.

Councilman Gregory Pecoraro also suggested last night that the city install more streetlights.

"We ought to try to do something," he said. "Since we expanded the area of Main Street, it kind of thinned out the lights. Going out and buying more lights, trying to brighten things up a little bit more, would show we're still trying to brighten up the holiday season."

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